For next-gen IT, resistance is fertile

Business change management begins with understanding employee resistance

What makes an IT organization next-gen rather than last-gen? Great question. Here's the essence:

Last-generation IT was separate from the business, aligned with the business, and responsible for providing technology to the business. Next-generation IT is integrated into the business, collaborates at all levels, and is responsible for making sure business change happens as intended.

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Yes, that's right: While next-generation IT has just as much responsibility for making information technology happen as last-generation IT did, what makes next-generation IT different has nothing to do with technology.

First and foremost, it has everything to do with mastering the fine art of business change management.

The essence of business change management

Think of an organization as a collection of balls interconnected by coiled springs. Think of a business change as an attempt to move only one of the balls into a new position.

Ball and Spring model

What's going to happen? As soon as you let go, the ball will return to the exact same position it was in before you moved it.

Organizations have a lot of interconnected parts, all of which have co-evolved into a stable configuration. Change just one and it no longer fits, which means that either all the others change too, or the one you're trying to change stays the same in spite of your best efforts.

Which is lesson No. 1 in business change management: An organization will resist change even if nobody in the organization resists change. Business change management takes more than just finding the change resisters and shooting them. It takes figuring out what else has to change in the organization so that it can adjust into a new configuration.

Everything you know about change resistance is wrong

Of course, every organization includes employees who are resistant to change. To deal with them you first have to unlearn most of the bunk that's bandied about.

Start with the "who moved my cheese" theory of business change management, which states, more or less, that employees naturally resist change. It's one of those theories that remains popular because it provides an easy target to blame when change fails to materialize, even though the most cursory look at the evidence shows it's wrong. The proof? It's as close as your mobile phone.

If employees naturally resisted change, none of them would own a personal smartphone; certainly none of them would pressure for BYOD. Think smartphones are an anomaly? Of course you don't, because you probably own a tablet as well, a device that didn't exist five years ago. You probably download most of the music you listen to rather than buying CDs, and even if you still buy CDs, that means you don't buy LPs, which you can't, because most of those people who supposedly resist change abandoned LPs for CDs back in the last century.

Why employees resist change

The fact of the matter is, employees sometimes resist change, but it isn't because they don't understand that change is good. It's because they understand that most of the business changes they've been subjected to over the past four decades have been good for shareholders and good for the company's top executives, but not so good for them.

Business change has, more often than not, meant:

  • Layoffs
  • More work for the survivors
  • The invalidation of hard-won skills
  • A need to learn brand-new skills
  • Reorganizations that mean learning how to deal with a new boss
  • Nothing at all pleasant to soften the blow
  • Abandoning it all for the next management fad to come along

Put it differently: Nobody is asking, "Who moved my cheese?" They aren't asking anything. The ones likely to resist the change are yelling, and what they're yelling is "BOHICA!" (In case you aren't familiar with the acronym, it means "Bend over. Here it comes again!")

The opportunity for next-gen IT

The fact that employees resist change because they're smart gives IT a valuable opportunity. If you're able to figure out the specifics of their resistance to a particular change, you're in a position to do something about it.

Business analysts, with their shiny new title of internal business consultant, will be on the front lines of this. They won't be there by themselves, though, because with agile, developers take on responsibilities that used to belong to business analysts. While they don't have to master the craft, they will need to know something about business change management too.

But that's OK. One way of thinking about business change management is that it's the art of "programming" the organization -- which makes it perfectly logical that developers should learn this "programming language" too.

Want more information about business change management? Check out Bob's book on the subject: Bare Bones Change Management.

This story, "For next-gen IT, resistance is fertile," was originally published at Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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